Jonathan Silveira

Phone: 778-861-5467 |

Today the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) released statistics showing national existing-home sales rose 0.9% between August and September 2021, posting the first monthly gain since March (see chart below). On a year-over-year (y-o-y) basis, the number of transactions last month was down 17.5%. Nevertheless, it was still the second-highest sales figure ever for the month of September.


“September provided another month’s worth of evidence from all across Canada that housing market conditions are stabilizing near current levels,” said Cliff Stevenson, Chair of CREA. “In some ways that comes as a relief given the volatility of the last year-and-a-half, but the issue is that demand/supply conditions are stabilizing in a place that very few people are happy about. There is still a lot of demand chasing an increasingly scarce number of listings, so this market remains very challenging."


Housing supply remains a major constraint, forcing many buyers to either pay up for scarce properties or to remain on the sidelines. This is particularly troublesome for first-time homebuyers as mortgage rates are coming under renewed upward pressure as inflation concerns have forced yield curves to steepen and longer-term bond yields to rise worldwide.



New Listings


Exacerbating supply problems, the number of newly listed homes fell by 1.6% in September compared to August, as gains in parts of Quebec were swamped by declines in the Lower Mainland, in and around the GTA and in Calgary.


With sales up and new listings down in September, the sales-to-new listings ratio tightened to 75.1% compared to 73.2% in August. The long-term average for the national sales-to-new listings ratio is 54.8%.


Based on a comparison of sales-to-new listings ratio with long-term averages, a small but growing majority of local markets are moving back into seller’s market territory (see chart below). As of September, it was close to a 60/40 split between seller's and balanced markets.


There were 2.1 months of inventory on a national basis at the end of September 2021, down slightly from 2.2 months in August and 2.3 months in June and July. This is extremely low and indicative of a strong seller’s market at the national level and in most local markets. The long-term average for this measure is more than 5 months.



Home Prices


In line with tighter market conditions, the Aggregate Composite MLS® Home Price Index (MLS® HPI) accelerated to 1.7% on a month-over-month basis in September 2021.


The non-seasonally adjusted Aggregate Composite MLS® HPI was up 21.5% on a year-over-year basis in September, up a bit from the 21.3% year-over-year gain recorded in August.


Looking across the country, year-over-year price growth is creeping up above 20% in B.C., though it is lower in Vancouver (13.9%), on par with the provincial number in Victoria, and higher in other parts of the province (see table below).


Year-over-year price gains are in the mid-to-high single digits in Alberta and Saskatchewan, while gains are into the low double digits in Manitoba.


Ontario saw year-over-year price growth pushing 25% in September; however--as with B.C.--big, medium and smaller city trends, gains are notably lower in the GTA (19.0%) and Ottawa (16.4%), around the provincial average in Oakville-Milton (26.9%), Hamilton-Burlington (26.5%) and Guelph (26.4%), and considerably higher in many of the smaller markets around the province.


Greater Montreal’s year-over-year price growth remains at a little over 20%, while Quebec City is now at 12.7%. Price growth is running a little above 30% in New Brunswick (higher in Greater Moncton, a little lower in Fredericton and Saint John), while Newfoundland and Labrador is now at 12% year-over-year (a bit lower in St. John’s).



Bottom Line


Canada continues to contend with one of the developed world’s most severe housing shortages. As our borders open to a resurgence of immigration, excess demand for housing will mount. The impediments to a rapid rise in housing supply, both for rent and purchase, are primarily in the planning and approvals process at the municipal level. Liberal Party election promises do not address these issues.


It is noteworthy that while Canada suffers one of the most acute housing shortages, housing affordability is getting worse in many OECD countries (see chart below).



Adding to the affordability problem, interest rates have bottomed as an inflation-induced selloff in bonds mount despite the assertion of most central banks that inflation is temporary. Very recently, Governor Tiff Macklem admitted that inflation is likely to remain a problem until the end of the year.


Some of the inflation is coming from disruptions on the supply side emanating from COVID-related disruptions, which may work themselves out in time. However, they're still getting worse, and many suggest the timeline could be much longer than just this year. In addition, extreme weather events and climate change initiatives--both of which are more or less permanent--have also boosted inflation pressure. Consumer demand for goods and housing and business capital expenditures have surged in the face of labour shortages. Wage rates are beginning to rise. All of this has raised prices spilling into next year. Higher interest rates are likely sustainable even though the Bank of Canada and the Federal Reserve will likely hold overnight rates steady for the next year (see charts below).




By Dr. Sherry Cooper

Chief Economist, Dominion Lending Centres


For more information contact Jonathan Silveira - Real estate Agent + Mortgage Broker - 778-861-5467 - info@jonathansilveira.com - www.jonathansilveira.com

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Housing Dampened Economy in Q2


This morning's Stats Canada release showed that the economy unexpectedly contracted in the second quarter by 1.1%, down from the revised 5.5% gain in the first three months of the year. The Canadian dollar dipped on the news to $.7921 as questions of resiliency in the face of the delta variant mount. Economists in a Bloomberg survey were anticipating a 2.5% expansion. Adding to the disappointment, economic growth fell a further 0.4% in July, according to a preliminary estimate.


The weak GDP data reduces the odds of the Bank of Canada tapering their bond purchases at their policy meeting on September 8th. It also highlights the output gap--the degree to which the economy remains below full economic capacity--remains a big issue. The Bank has forecast the gap to close by the middle of 2022. While that remains uncertain, we continue to expect growth to rebound in the third quarter.


Increases in investment in business inventories, government final consumption expenditures, business investment in machinery and equipment, and investment in new home construction and renovation were not sufficient to offset the declines in exports (-4.0%) and homeownership transfer costs (-17.7%), which include all costs associated with the transfer of a residential asset from one owner to another.


Housing investment reshapes the economy


Since the third quarter of 2020, housing investment has emerged as the predominant contributor to economic activities and capital stock—with residential capital stock surpassing non-residential capital stock. Moreover, the average housing investment for the previous four quarters was 17% higher than the average over the last five years.


Housing Investment



Both new construction and renovations—the components of residential capital stock—have shown sustained growth since the third quarter of 2020. Because of the ability to work from home, savings from less travel and reduced participation in other activities, low mortgage rates and increases in home equity lines of credit, spending has continued to increase on new houses (+3.2%) and home renovations (+2.4%).


After taking on $62.3 billion of residential mortgage debt in the last half of 2020, households added $84.2 billion more residential housing debt in the first half of 2021.


Supply chain disruptions continue to impact motor vehicles


Shortages of microchips and other inputs curtailed trade in motor vehicles and domestic consumption. Household purchases of new passenger cars (-7.2%) and trucks, vans and sport utility vehicles (-1.6%) decreased, while business investment in medium and heavy trucks, buses and other motor vehicles fell 34.2%. Longer plant shutdowns because of international supply chain disruptions have constrained imports of parts and led to significant decreases in exports. Low production of motor vehicles and parts resulted in an 18.9% drop in exports of passenger cars and light trucks and an 8.7% decline in tires, motor vehicle engines and parts exports. Inventories had another quarter of significant drawdowns in response to supply needs.


Double-digit household savings rate continues


The modest rise in household spending (+0.7%, in nominal terms) was outpaced by growth in disposable income (+2.2%), leaving households with more net savings than in the previous quarter. Household incomes were primarily bolstered by employees' rising compensation and increasing transfers received from the government, which were partially offset by a 2.8% rise in personal income taxes.


Consequently, the savings rate reached 14.2%—the fifth consecutive quarter with a double-digit savings rate—as various pandemic-related restrictions and uncertainty continued to limit the scope of household consumption. The household savings rate is aggregated across all income brackets; in general, savings rates are greater in higher income brackets.




Bottom Line


Today's release is, in some respects, 'ancient history.' It is still widely expected that the economy will rebound in the third quarter. With the surge in household savings and continued growth in personal disposable income, pent-up demand is likely to boost consumption for the remainder of this year. All eyes will be on the August employment report released Friday, September 10th. The Bank of Canada will likely continue to proceed cautiously. Another tapering of the bond-buying program will come under scrutiny, and forward guidance will continue to suggest no rate hikes until the second half of next year.   


By Dr. Sherry Cooper
Chief Economist, Dominion Lending Centres

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Bank of Canada Holds Rates Steady and Continues QE Program

Bank of Canada Holds Target Rate Steady
Until Inflation Sustainably Hits 2%

The Bank of Canada under the new governor, Tiff Macklem, wants to be “unusually clear” that interest rates will remain low for a very long time. To do that, they are using “forward guidance”–indicating that they will not raise rates until capacity is absorbed and inflation hits its 2% target on a sustainable basis, which they estimate will take at least two years. As well, they indicate that the risks to their “central” outlook are to the downside, which would extend the period over which interest rates will remain extremely low. The Bank also made it clear that they are not considering negative interest rates. The benchmark interest rate remains at 0.25%, which is deemed to be its the lower bound.


The Bank is also continuing its quantitative easing (QE) program, with large-scale asset purchases of at least $5 billion per week of Government of Canada bonds. The provincial and corporate bond purchase programs will continue as announced. The Bank stands ready to adjust its programs if market conditions warrant.


With the benchmark rate at its effective lower bound, the Bank’s quantitative easing is the way it is lowering mid- to longer-term interest rates, reducing the borrowing costs for Canadian households and businesses. The Bank assumes that the virus will be with us for the entire forecast range, which is two years.


The Bank released its new economic forecast in today’s July Monetary Policy Report (MPR). The MPR presents a central scenario for global and Canadian growth rather than the usual economic projections. The central scenario is based on assumptions outlined in the MPR, including that there is no widespread second wave of the virus in Canada or globally.


The Canadian economy is starting to recover as it re-opens from the shutdowns needed to limit the virus spread. With economic activity in the second quarter estimated to have been 15 percent below its level at the end of 2019, this is the most profound decline in economic activity since the Great Depression, but considerably less severe than the worst scenarios presented in the April MPR. Decisive and necessary fiscal and monetary policy actions have supported incomes and kept credit flowing, cushioning the fall and laying the foundation for recovery.


Mincing no words, the MPR acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a “worldwide health-care emergency as well as an economic calamity.” The course of the pandemic is inherently unknowable, and its evolution over time and across regions remains highly uncertain.


In Canada, the number of new COVID-19 cases has fallen sharply from its April high, and the economic recovery has begun in all provinces and territories and across many sectors. Consequently, economic activity is picking up notably as measures to contain the virus are relaxed. The Bank of Canada expects a sharp rebound in economic activity in the reopening phase of the recovery, followed by a more prolonged recuperation phase, which will be uneven across regions and sectors (Figure 1 below). As a result, Canada’s economic output will likely take some time to return to its pre-COVID-19 level. Many workers and businesses can expect to face an extended period of difficulty.

There are early signs that the reopening of businesses and pent-up demand are leading to an initial bounce-back in employment and output. In the central scenario, roughly 40 percent of the collapse in the first half of the year is made up in the third quarter. Subsequently, the Bank expects the economy’s recuperation to slow as the pandemic continues to affect confidence and consumer behaviour and as the economy works through structural challenges. As a result, in the central scenario, real GDP declines by 7.8 percent in 2020 and resumes with growth of 5.1 percent in 2021 and 3.7 percent in 2022. The Bank expects economic slack to persist as the recovery in demand lags that of supply, creating significant disinflationary pressures.


Bottom Line


Governor Macklem said in the press conference that what he wants Canadians to take away from today’s Bank of Canada’s actions is “Canadian interest rates are very low and will remain very low for a very long period”. The reopening of the Canadian economy is well underway. Economic activity hit bottom in April and began expanding in May and accelerated in June. About 1.25 million of the 3.0 million jobs that were lost in March-April, were added in May and June.


Some activities, including motor vehicle sales, have already seen a strong pickup since April. Likewise, housing activity fell sharply during the lockdown but is beginning to recover quickly. In contrast, some of the hardest-hit businesses, such as restaurants, travel and personal care services, have only just started to see improvements in recent weeks and are expected to continue to face significant challenges.


The chart below, from July’s MPR, shows that household spending patterns have shifted since the onset of the pandemic. Some of these shifts might last. In the central scenario, the effects of the downturn and lower immigration hold down housing activity over the next few years. After a near-term boost from pent-up demand, residential investment slowly increases as income and confidence recover.

 
By Dr. Sherry Cooper - Chief Economist - Dominion Lending Centres.
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The new qualifying rate will be the mortgage contract rate or a newly created benchmark very close to it plus 200 basis points, in either case. The News Release from the Department of Finance Canada states, “the Government of Canada has introduced measures to help more Canadians achieve their housing needs while also taking measured actions to contain risks in the housing market. A stable and healthy housing market is part of a strong economy, which is vital to building and supporting a strong middle class.”


These changes will come into effect on April 6, 2020. The new benchmark rate will be the weekly median 5-year fixed insured mortgage rate from mortgage insurance applications, plus 2%. (See Today's Mortgage Rates by Term)


This follows a recent review by federal financial agencies, which concluded that the minimum qualifying rate should be more dynamic to reflect the evolution of market conditions better. Overall, the review concluded that the mortgage stress test is working to ensure that home buyers are able to afford their homes even if interest rates rise, incomes change, or families are faced with unforeseen expenses.


This adjustment to the stress test will allow it to be more representative of the mortgage rates offered by lenders and more responsive to market conditions.


The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) also announced today that it is considering the same new benchmark rate to determine the minimum qualifying rate for uninsured mortgages.


The existing qualification rule, which was introduced in 2016 for insured mortgages and in 2018 for uninsured mortgages, wasn’t responsive enough to the recent drop in lending interest rates — effectively making the stress test too tight. The earlier rule established the big-six bank posted rate plus 2 percentage points as the qualifying rate. Banks have increasingly held back from adjusting their posted rates when 5-year market yields moved downward. With rates falling sharply in recent weeks, especially since the coronavirus scare, the gap between posted and contract mortgage rates has widened even more than what was already evident in the past two years.


This move, effective April 6, should reduce the qualifying rate by about 30 basis points if contract rates remain at roughly today’s levels. According to a Department of Finance official, “As of February 18, 2020, based on the weekly median 5-year fixed insured mortgage rate from insured mortgage applications received by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the new benchmark rate would be roughly 4.89%.”  That’s 30 basis points less than today’s benchmark rate of 5.19%.


The Bank of Canada will calculate this new benchmark weekly, based on actual rates from mortgage insurance applications, as underwritten by Canada’s three default insurers.


OSFI confirmed today that it, too, is considering the new benchmark rate for its minimum stress test rate on uninsured mortgages (mortgages with at least 20% equity).


“The proposed new benchmark for uninsured mortgages is based on rates from mortgage applications submitted by a wide variety of lenders, which makes it more representative of both the broader market and fluctuations in actual contract rates,” OSFI said in its release.


“In addition to introducing a more accurate floor, OSFI’s proposal maintains cohesion between the benchmarks used to qualify both uninsured and insured mortgages.” (Thank goodness, as the last thing the mortgage market needs is more complexity.)


The new rules will certainly add to what was already likely to be a buoyant spring housing market. While it might boost buying power by just 3% (depending on what the new benchmark turns out to be on April 6), the psychological boost will be positive. Homebuyers—particularly first-time buyers—are already worried about affordability, given the double-digit gains of the last 12 months.


By Dr. Sherry Cooper

Chief Economist, Dominion Lening Centres

Sherry is an award-winning authority on finance and economics with over 30 years of bringing economic insights and clarity to Canadians.

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Home buyer demand has returned to more historically typical levels in Metro Vancouver over the last three months.


The Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver (REBGV) reports that residential home sales in the region totalled 2,333 in September 2019, a 46.3 per cent increase from the 1,595 sales recorded in September 2018, and a 4.6 per cent increase from the 2,231 homes sold in August 2019.


Last month’s sales were 1.7 per cent below the 10-year September sales average.


“We’re seeing more balanced housing market conditions over the last three months compared to what we saw at this time last year,” Ashley Smith, REBGV president said. “Home buyers are more willing to make offers today, particularly in the townhome and apartment markets.”


There were 4,866 detached, attached and apartment properties newly listed for sale on the Multiple Listing Service® (MLS®) in Metro Vancouver in September 2019. This represents a 7.8 per cent decrease compared to the 5,279 homes listed in September 2018 and a 29.9 per cent increase compared to August 2019 when 3,747 homes were listed.


The total number of homes currently listed for sale on the MLS® system in Metro Vancouver is 13,439, a 2.7 per cent increase compared to September 2018 (13,084) and a 0.3 per cent increase compared to August 2019 (13,396).


For all property types, the sales-to-active listings ratio for September 2019 is 17.4 per cent. By property type, the ratio is 12.7 per cent for detached homes, 18.9 per cent for townhomes, and 21.9 per cent for apartments.


Generally, analysts say that downward pressure on home prices occurs when the ratio dips below 12 per cent for a sustained period, while home prices often experience upward pressure when it surpasses 20 per cent over several months.


“This is a more comfortable market for people on both sides of a real estate transaction,” said Smith. “Home sale and listing activity were both at typical levels for our region in September.”


The MLS® Home Price Index composite benchmark price for all residential homes in Metro Vancouver is currently $990,600. This represents a 7.3 per cent decrease over September 2018 and a 0.3 per cent decrease compared to August 2019.


Sales of detached homes in September 2019 reached 745, a 46.7 per cent increase from the 508 detached sales recorded in September 2018. The benchmark price for a detached home is $1,406,200. This represents an 8.6 per cent decrease from September 2018 and is virtually unchanged compared to August 2019.


Sales of apartment homes reached 1,166 in September 2019, a 43.6 per cent increase compared to the 812 sales in September 2018. The benchmark price of an apartment property is $651,500. This represents a 6.5 per cent decrease from September 2018 and a 0.4 per cent decrease compared to August 2019.


Attached home sales in September 2019 totalled 422, a 53.5 per cent increase compared to the 275 sales in September 2018. The benchmark price of an attached home is $767,500. This represents a 7.2 per cent decrease from September 2018 and a 0.6 per cent decrease compared to August 2019.


By the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver | October 2, 2019.

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Statistics released today by the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) show that national home sales rose for the sixth consecutive month. Transactions are now running almost 17% above the six-year low reached in February 2019, but remain about 10% below highs reached in 2016 and 2017. Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver all saw sales and prices rise. CREA updated its 2019 sales forecast, now predicting a 5% gain this year. Gains were led by a record-setting August in Winnipeg and a further improvement in the Fraser Valley. These confirm signs that the country’s housing market is returning to health.


Actual (not seasonally adjusted) sales activity was up 5% from where it stood in August 2018. The number of homes that traded hands was up from year-ago levels in most of Canada’s largest urban markets, including the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, Calgary, Winnipeg, the Greater Toronto (GTA), Ottawa and Montreal.



New Listings


The number of newly listed homes rose 1.1% in August. With sales and new supply up by similar magnitudes, the national sales-to-new listings ratio was 60.1%—little changed from July’s reading of 60.0%. The measure has risen above its long-term average (of 53.6%) in recent months, which indicates a tighter balance between supply and demand and a growing potential for price gains.


Based on a comparison of the sales-to-new listings ratio with the long-term average, about three-quarters of all local markets were in balanced market territory in August 2019. Of the remainder, the ratio was above the long-term average in all markets save for some in the Prairie region.


There were 4.6 months of inventory on a national basis at the end of August 2019 – the lowest level since December 2017. This measure of market balance has been increasingly retreating below its long-term average (of 5.3 months).


There is considerable regional variation in the tightness of housing markets. The number of months of inventory has swollen far beyond long-term averages in Prairie provinces and Newfoundland & Labrador, giving homebuyers an ample choice in these regions. By contrast, the measure is running well below long-term averages in Ontario, Quebec and Maritime provinces, resulting in increased competition among buyers for listings and fertile ground for price gains. Meanwhile, the measure is well centred in balanced-market territory in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, making it likely that prices there will stabilize.


Home Prices


Canadian home prices saw its biggest one-month gain in two years. The Aggregate Composite MLS® Home Price Index (MLS® HPI) rose 0.8% m-o-m in August 2019.


Seasonally adjusted MLS® HPI readings in August were up from the previous month in 14 of the 18 markets tracked by the index, marking the biggest dispersion of monthly price gains since last March.


In recent months, home prices have generally been stabilizing in British Columbia and the Prairies, a measure which had been falling until recently. Meanwhile, price growth has begun to rebound among markets in the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH) region amid ongoing price gains in housing markets east of it.


A comparison of home prices to year-ago levels yields considerable variations across the country, with declines in western Canada and price gains in eastern Canada.


The actual (not seasonally adjusted) Aggregate Composite MLS® (HPI) was up 0.9% year-over-year (y/y) in August 2019. This marks the second consecutive month in which prices climbed above year-ago levels and the most substantial y/y increase since the end of last year.


Home prices in Greater Vancouver (GVA) and the Fraser Valley remain furthest below year-ago levels, (-8.3% and -5.5%, respectively). Vancouver Island and the Okanagan Valley logged y/y increases of 3.7% and 1.5% respectively.

Prairie markets posted modest price declines, while y-o-y price growth has re-accelerated ahead of overall consumer price inflation across most of the GGH. Meanwhile, price growth has continued uninterrupted for the last few years in Ottawa, Montreal and Moncton.


All benchmark home categories tracked by the index returned to positive y/y territory in August. Two-storey single-family home prices were up most, rising 1.2% y/y. This category of homes had .been hardest hit during the slump. One-storey single-family home prices rose 0.7% y/y, while townhouse/row and condo apartment units edged up 0.3% and 0.5%, respectively.


Stress Test


Canada’s introduction of stricter mortgage-lending rules last year inhibited some potential home buyers. Until recently, declining interest rates and lower home prices may have allowed some of those buyers to return to the market, according to the CREA report.


“The recent marginal decline in the benchmark five-year interest rate used to assess homebuyers’ mortgage eligibility–from 5.34% to 5.19%–together with lower home prices in some markets, means that some previously sidelined homebuyers have returned,” said Gregory Klump, CREA’s chief economist. “Even so, the mortgage stress-test will continue to limit homebuyers’ access to mortgage financing, with the degree to which it further weighs on home sales activity continuing to vary by region.”


CREA also updated its forecasts. National home sales are now projected to recover to 482,000 units in 2019, representing a 5% increase from the five-year low recorded in 2018. The upward revision of 19,000 transactions brings the overall level back to the 10-year average, but remains well below the annual record set in 2016, when almost 540,000 homes traded hands, CREA said.


Bottom Line: This report is in line with other recent indicators that suggest housing has recovered from a slump earlier, helped by falling mortgage rates. The run of robust housing data gives the Bank of Canada another reason — along with robust job gains, higher wage rates and stronger than expected output growth in Q2 — to hold interest rates steady, even as more than 30 central banks around the world have cut interest rates further.


The Federal Open Market Committee meets again on Wednesday, and it is widely expected that they will cut rates by 25 basis points as the White House is calling for “emergency easing moves.” The Trump administration has just in the past few days succumbed to political pressure to reduce trade tensions. Trade uncertainty is the only thing right now that would derail the Canadian recovery.


As a result of this recent easing in trade tensions and last week’s cut in overnight rates further into negative territory by the European Central Bank, the flight to US Treasury bond safety diminished, raising the US and Canadian government bond yields by roughly 25 basis points from extremely low levels. Canadian 5-year bond yields at 1.48% are at their highest level in two months. In consequence, the spread between the best 5-year fixed mortgage rates and 5-year government bonds is at a very tight 77 basis points, which is likely not sustainable. A more normal spread between the two is 120-ish (or more) for the best rates and 150-plus-ish (for regular rates). Some lenders are already hiking mortgage rates.


The situation has been compounded with even more considerable uncertainty with the weekend bombing of the Saudi Aramco oil fields, taking an estimated half of all Saudi oil out of production. Stay tuned.



By Dr. Sherry Cooper

Chief Economist, Dominion Lending Centres

Sherry is an award-winning authority on finance and economics with over 30 years of bringing economic insights and clarity to Canadians.

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In its fourth fiscal plan, the Trudeau government spent its entire revenue windfall leaving the deficit projection little changed. In this election budget, Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced $22.8 billion over six years in new spending initiative mostly for homebuyers, students and seniors. Trudeau promised in his first budget to have eliminated all red ink by this year. He will instead head for an October election with an annual deficit of nearly $20 billion. Ottawa is projecting a string of double-digit deficits through the end of 2022.


The key debt-to-GDP ratio is expected to be 30.8% this fiscal year and edges downward only very slowly to 30% over the four-year forecast horizon.


Today’s budget offered help to young homebuyers, many of whom find it very difficult to afford to purchase in some of our more expensive cities. There were two measures targeted at first-time homebuyers:


Maximum Withdrawal from RRSPs Is Increased


The simplest to understand is the $10,000 increase in the federal Home Buyers’ Plan (HBP) maximum tax-free withdrawal from RRSPs to $35,000, effective immediately. This allowable withdrawal for first-time buyers will now also apply to people experiencing the breakdown of a marriage or common-law partnership who don’t meet the usual requirement of being a first-time homebuyer.

The new limit would apply to HBP withdrawals made after March 19, 2019.


Those taking advantage of the higher HBP limit will have to keep in mind that the repayment timeline is unchanged. Home buyers must put the money back into their RRSP over 15 years to avoid full ordinary income taxation on HBP withdrawal. Now Canadians using these funds will have to repay a maximum of $35,000 – instead of $25,000 – over the same period.


The Boldest Move: The CMHC First-Time Homebuyer Incentive


A $1.25 billion fund administered by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) over three years will provide 5% of the cost of an existing home and 10% of the price of a new home through what amounts to an interest-free loan to be repaid when the property is sold. The money would go to first-time home buyers applying for insured mortgages. The key stipulations are:


• Users must have a downpayment of at least 5%, but less than 20%;
• Household income must be less than $120,000;
• The purchase price cannot be more than four times the buyers’ household income.


For example, say you’re hoping to buy a $400,000 home with the minimum required 5% down payment, which works out to be $20,000. With the new incentive, you could receive up to $40,000 (for a new home) through the CMHC. Now, instead of taking out a $380,000 mortgage, you’d need to borrow only $340,000. This would lower your monthly mortgage bill from over $1,970 to less than $1,750. The incentive is 10% for buyers purchasing a newly built home and 5% for existing homes.


Homeowners would eventually have to repay this so-called ‘shared mortgage,’ likely at resale, though it is unclear how this would work. CMHC might share in any capital gain (or loss)– receiving 5% or 10% of the sale price (not the purchase price). At the time of this writing, these details had not been hammered out.


These stipulations effectively limit purchases under this plan to properties priced at less than $500,000 ($480,000 maximum in insured mortgage and incentive, plus the downpayment), which is close to the national average sales price of $468,350 (which is down 5.2% from the average price one year ago). However, the national average price is heavily skewed by sales in Greater Vancouver and the Greater Toronto Area, two of Canada’s most active and expensive markets. Excluding these two markets from the calculations cuts close to $100,000 off the national average price, trimming it to just under $371,000. What this tells us is that the relief for first-time homebuyers is pretty meagre for young people living in our two most expensive regions.


Arguably, the max price point of $500,000 for this plan is where the affordability challenge only really begins in our higher-priced housing markets. The most acute affordability problems surround medium-sized and larger condo units or single-detached homes in the GTA and GVA; yet, most of these are beyond the price range covered by the CMHC plan. The impact, of course, would be broader in other regions, but affordability in many of those is historically quite normal. The most significant impact will be in low-priced new builds.


Also, mortgage applicants under this plan still have to qualify under the federal stress test, which ensures that borrowers will be able to keep up with the payments even if interest rates rise by roughly two full percentage. The incentive, however, would substantially lower the bar for test takers, as applicants would have to qualify for a lower mortgage.


Before the budget, many stakeholders had been arguing that with the rapid slowdown in the economy and the Bank of Canada unlikely to raise interest rates this year, the B-20 stress test is too onerous and should be eased.


The government is hoping to have the plan up and running by September.


Bottom Line: These housing measures are focused on the demand side of the market, rather than encouraging the construction of new affordable housing. And while the budget does earmark $10 billion over nine years for new rental homes, it does not propose tax breaks or reduced red tape for homebuilders.




By Dr. Sherry Cooper | Chief Economist, Dominion Lending Centres
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In a very dovish statement, the Bank of Canada acknowledged this morning that the slowdown in the Canadian economy has been deeper and more broadly based than it had expected earlier this year. The Bank had forecast weak exports and investment in the energy sector and a decline in consumer spending in the oil-producing provinces in the January Monetary Policy Report. However, as indicated by the mere 0.1% quarterly growth in GDP in the fourth quarter, the deceleration in activity was far more troubling. Consumer spending, especially for durable goods, and the housing market were soft despite strong jobs growth. Both exports and business investment were also disappointing. Today’s Bank of Canada statement said, “after growing at a pace of 1.8 per cent in 2018, it now appears that the economy will be weaker in the first half of 2019 than the Bank projected in January.”


As was unanimously expected, the Bank maintained its target for the overnight rate at 1-3/4% for the third consecutive time and dropped its earlier reference for the need to raise the overnight rate in the future to a neutral level, estimated at roughly 2-1/2%. The Bank also added an assertion that borrowing costs will remain below neutral for now and “given the mixed picture that the data present, it will take time to gauge the persistence of below-potential growth and the implications for the inflation outlook. With increased uncertainty about the timing of future rate increases, the Governing Council will be watching closely developments in household spending, oil markets, and global trade policy.”


At the same time, Governor Poloz seems reluctant to abandon entirely the idea that the next step is likely higher — making him a bit of an outlier among industrialized economy central bankers.


We are left with the view that the Bank is unlikely to hike interest rates again this year. The global economy has slowed more than expected and central banks in many countries, including the U.S., have moved to the sidelines. Market interest rates have already dropped reflecting this reality.


According to Bloomberg News, “swaps trading suggests investors are giving zero probability that the Bank of Canada will budge rates, either higher or lower, from here. The Canadian dollar extended declines after the decision, falling 0.7 percent to C$1.3438 against the U.S. currency at 10:04 a.m. Yields on government 2-year bond dropped 6 basis points to 1.68 percent.”


February Cold Chills Toronto and Vancouver Housing Markets While Montreal Continues Strong


In separate news, local realtor boards reported this week that recent housing market patterns continued in February. Resale housing activity fell last month to its lowest level for a February since 2009 in both Vancouver and Toronto, while home sales ramped up in Montreal, marking four years of continuous growth.


The month-over-month declines in Vancouver and Toronto were substantial. Home resales dropped by nearly 8% (on a preliminary seasonally-adjusted basis) in Toronto and by more than 7% in Vancouver. Soft demand in Vancouver kept prices under downward pressure in what has been a buyers’ market. Vancouver’s composite MLS House Price Index (HPI) is now down 8% from its June 2018 peak. And the correction probably isn’t over.


In Toronto, the MLS HPI in February was still 2.3% above its level a year ago, though it has decelerated in the past couple of months from 3.0% in December.


Blasts of bad weather can easily exaggerate demand weakness in winter when markets are at their seasonal low point. However, Montrealers certainly seemed impervious to the weather.


Quebec’s real estate broker association reported home sales in metropolitan Montreal rose 8% in February compared with the same month last year. As well, average residential prices increased 4.9% in metro Montreal and 6.1% on the island of Montreal.


More complete housing data will be available mid-month when the Canadian Real Estate Board releases its February report.

 
By Dr. Sherry Cooper | Chief Economist, Dominion Lending Centres
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The Bank of Canada left the overnight benchmark policy rate at 1-3/4%, as expected. In another dovish statement, the Bank of Canada acknowledged a slowdown in global economic activity and highlighted that oil prices are roughly 25% lower than what they had assumed in the October Monetary Policy Report (MPR). The lower prices primarily reflected sustained increases in U.S. oil supply and increased worries about global demand, especially in light of a potential U.S.-China trade war (see oil chart below).


The Bank also commented that these worries had been mirrored in bond and stock markets. Credit spreads off Treasuries have widened, and stock markets have sold off around the world (see chart below). Equity prices and bond yields have declined in the face of market unease over global growth. Volatility has risen, and corporate credit spreads have widened sharply. A tightening of corporate credit conditions is particularly evident in the North American energy sector reflecting the decline in oil prices. 


Weak oil prices negatively impact the Canadian economic outlook and “transportation constraints and rising production have combined to push up oil inventories in the west and exert even more downward pressure on Canadian benchmark prices. While price differentials have narrowed in recent weeks following announced mandatory production cuts in Alberta, investment in Canada’s oil sector is projected to weaken further.” 


The Bank acknowledged that the economy is running close to potential, unemployment is at a 40-year low and trade will likely improve with the weak dollar, the trade deal with Mexico and the U.S. (now dubbed “CUSMA”) and federal tax measures to target investment. Nevertheless, consumer spending and housing investment “have been weaker than expected as housing markets adjust to to municipal and provincial measures, changes to mortgage guidelines, and higher interest rates. Household spending will be dampened further by slow growth in oil-producing provinces.”


The contribution to average annual real economic growth from housing investment has been revised down to -0.1% this year from the +0.1% forecast in October. 


The Bank of Canada revised down its forecast for real GDP growth in 2019 to 1.7%–0.4 percentage points lower than the October outlook. According to the Bank, “This will open up a modest amount of excess capacity, primarily in oil-producing regions. Nevertheless, indicators of demand should start to show renewed momentum in early 2019, leading to above-potential growth of 2.1% in 2020.”


Inflation remains close to 2%, the central bank’s target, having fallen to 1.7% in November, due to lower gasoline prices. While low gasoline prices will depress inflation this year, the weak Canadian dollar will have an offsetting impact on the CPI. On balance, the bank sees inflation returning to around 2% by late this year.


Considering all of these factors, the Governing Council continues to judge that the benchmark policy rate will need to rise over time to a neutral range to achieve the inflation target. “The appropriate pace of rate increases will depend on how the outlook evolves, with a particular focus on developments in oil markets, the Canadian housing market, and global trade policy.”


Bottom Line: The Bank of Canada for the first time admits in today’s MPR that the slowdown in the housing market has been more dramatic than the Bank’s staff had expected. The January MPR states, “provincial and municipal housing market policies, the tighter mortgage finance guidelines and higher mortgage rates continue to weigh on housing activity. Slowing of activity in some markets has been associated with less speculative activity. As a result, it is difficult to evaluate the sensitivity of non-speculative demand to the various policy changes. Monthly indicators have signalled that spending on housing likely contracted again in the fourth quarter. Weaker-than-expected housing activity in recent months and staff analysis suggest that the combined effect of tighter mortgage guidelines and higher interest rates has been larger than previously estimated. The Bank will continue to monitor developments in housing markets to assess how construction is adjusting to the shift in demand toward lower-value units.”


The Bank see less urgency to raise interest rates as the economy copes with slumping oil prices and weak housing markets. The five interest rate hikes since mid-2017 are having a more substantial impact on spending than the Bank expected. A short-term pause in rate hikes is now likely. The economy slowed considerably in the fourth quarter of last year, which will continue in the first quarter of this year owing to the decline in oil prices and the Alberta government’s implemented oil production cuts.


While it is unlikely that the Bank is finished its tightening this cycle, expect rates to remain steady until we see solid evidence of a rebound in the oil sector and in housing as interest-rate sensitivity of Canadians is at historical highs

 



By Dr. Sherry Cooper | Chief Economist, Dominion Lending Centres



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At the start of every New Year, pundits posit the forecast as everyone wonders what the year will bring. While no one has a crystal ball, here are some fundamentals at play this year:


1). Canada’s economy will continue to under perform the U.S. as growth slows to 1-3/4% in 2019 compared to just over 2% in 2018. For the U.S., where budget deficits have been rising sharply with the 2018 tax cuts, growth this year will hit about 2.4% compared to nearly 3% last year–an over-heated economy to say the least.


2.) Canada’s population growth will lead the G7 by a wide margin. In 2018, Canada’s population was on track to increase 1.4%, the most robust pace in 18 years and double the 0.7% rate for the U.S., which was the G7 country with the next-highest population growth rate. Despite this, spending did not rise —auto sales fell on an annual basis for the first time since 2009, while home sales had their second biggest slide in the past 20 years. Per capita GDP growth in Canada this year will under perform most of the G7.


Strong (net) immigration accounted for almost half (45%) of Canada’s population increase last year. That contribution will only grow since Ottawa has committed to boosting its annual immigration target from 310,000 new permanent residents in 2018 to 331,000 this year (up 6.7%) and to 350,000 by 2021. About two-thirds of 2019’s expansion will come from the immigration programs that target highly skilled workers aimed at addressing labour shortages across Canada.


As well, the number of non-permanent residents reached an all-time high of 166,000 last year accounting for one-third of the growth in the population. This group includes temporary foreign workers, international students and asylum seekers. All three categories soared, reflecting strong demand for skilled labour, Canada’s growing reputation as a desirable place to obtain post-secondary education, and increases in cross-border refugee claimants.


3.) Canadian consumers are tapped out as debt levels remain high, interest rates edging upward and credit is less readily available. Boomers are wary that their homes are worth less than what they were counting on as Canada’s two largest housing markets experienced decade-low sales last year with softer prices especially at the pricier end of the single-family home market. First-time buyers might have more homes to choose from in some markets, but regulators have tightened qualification rules. Foreign buying has slowed owing to foreign purchaser taxes in Toronto and Vancouver and speculation taxes in Vancouver.


4.) The Fed and the Bank of Canada will raise rates in 2019 by more than the market currently expects. Market participants in recent weeks have reduced expectations for rate hikes by both central banks to barely one increase apiece. More likely, both the Fed and the BoC will raise the benchmark overnight rate twice each this year. Even with these actions, monetary policy in both countries will be slightly accommodating with interest rates still below neutral levels.


5.) Even with only modest rate increases in 2019, consumers will be impacted because they are so heavily exposed to debt. Economists at the Royal Bank estimate that the average household faces a $1,000 hit from rate hikes. This would imply that the average household principal and interest payment will increase by 7.6% in 2019.


6.) This effect will be offset by stronger wage growth as labour markets continue to tighten. Labour shortages will finally add to wage growth. The unemployment rate hit a record low in December, yet wage growth had slowed to only 1.5% year-over-year, well below inflation. Over the next decade, more than 270,000 people will retire from the Canadian labour market every year. Immigrants and temporary workers will replace some of these retirees, but not all.


Recent data suggest that the quit rate–the proportion of the labour force that leaves their jobs voluntarily–is rising. This portends higher wage rates going forward.


7.) Rising interest rates will squeeze government spending for the feds and provinces with significant debt loads. Ottawa will spend more on debt payments than any other program except elderly benefits.


8.) Corporate balance sheets will be negatively impacted by higher interest rates as Canadian companies borrowed more heavily than their international counterparts. Canadian companies remain less competitive as their productivity growth has lagged their global competitors. Efforts to improve Canadian competitiveness are in process but have yet to show meaningful results. This has been a secular problem for Canada.


9.) Canada could be caught in the crosshairs of a U.S.-China trade war, but free-trade deals with Europe (CETA) and China (CPTPP) will reap benefits, particularly as the U.S. continues to alienate many of its allies and trading partners. Canada must diversify trade away from the U.S., particularly in the oil sector, which requires massive infrastructure spending. No longer can we count on exports of oil and transportation products to the U.S. to be the mainstay of Canadian global trade.


10). Comparable to last year, housing in 2019 will not fuel Canada’s national economy, thanks to macroprudential policy measures and modestly higher interest rates. Housing accounted for a record-high percentage of overall economic growth and job creation until early last year.We are barely off those peak levels now, so any slowdown in housing activity will have a disproportionately large negative impact on the economy–the flip side of its disproportionate expansionary impact over much of the prior decade.


Bottom Line: Sales to new listings have stabilized in Toronto, but continue to decline in Vancouver. Population growth in Vancouver has under performed Toronto’s for two years, while supply, mainly in the high-rise segment, has risen sharply. In consequence, the number of completed and unabsorbed units in Vancouver continues to increase, while that measure is still trending downward in Toronto. The sector of most significant weakness in Toronto will continue to be in the pre-sale low-rise market where there remains considerable excess supply.


By Dr. Sherry Cooper | Chief Economist, Dominion Lending Centres

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The supply of homes for sale continued to increase across the Metro Vancouver* housing market in September while home buyer demand remained below typical levels for this time of year.


The Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver (REBGV) reports that residential property sales in the region totalled 1,595 in September 2018, a 43.5 per cent decrease from the 2,821 sales recorded in September 2017, and a 17.3 per cent decrease compared to August 2018 when 1,929 homes sold.


Last month’s sales were 36.1 per cent below the 10-year September sales average.


“Fewer home sales are allowing listings to accumulate and prices to ease across the Metro Vancouver housing market,” Ashley Smith, REBGV president-elect said. “There’s more selection for home buyers to choose from today. Since spring, home listing totals have risen to levels we haven’t seen in our market in four years.”


There were 5,279 detached, attached and apartment properties newly listed for sale on the Multiple Listing Service® (MLS®) in Metro Vancouver in September 2018. This represents a 1.8 per cent decrease compared to the 5,375 homes listed in September 2017 and a 36 per cent increase compared to August 2018 when 3,881 homes were listed.


The total number of properties currently listed for sale on the MLS® system in Metro Vancouver is 13,084, a 38.2 per cent increase compared to September 2017 (9,466) and a 10.7 per cent increase compared to August 2018 (11,824).


For all property types, the sales-to-active listings ratio for September 2018 is 12.2 per cent. By property type, the ratio is 7.8 per cent for detached homes, 14 per cent for townhomes, and 17.6 per cent for condominiums.


Generally, analysts say that downward pressure on home prices occurs when the ratio dips below the 12 per cent mark for a sustained period, while home prices often experience upward pressure when it surpasses 20 per cent over several months.


“Metro Vancouver’s housing market has changed pace compared to the last few years. Our townhome and apartment markets are sitting in balanced market territory and our detached home market remains in a clear buyers’ market,” Smith said. “It’s important for both home buyers and sellers to work with their Realtor to understand what these trends means to them.”


The MLS® Home Price Index composite benchmark price for all residential properties in Metro Vancouver is currently $1,070,600. This represents a 2.2 per cent increase over September 2017 and a 3.1 per cent decrease over the last three months.


Sales of detached properties in September 2018 reached 508, a 40.4 per cent decrease from the 852 detached sales recorded in September 2017. The benchmark price for detached properties is $1,540,900. This represents a 4.5 per cent decrease from September 2017 and a 3.4 per cent decrease over the last three months.


Sales of apartment properties reached 812 in September 2018, a 44 per cent decrease compared to the 1,451 sales in September 2017. The benchmark price of an apartment property is $687,300. This represents a 7.4 per cent increase from September 2017 and a 3.1 per cent decrease over the last three months.


Attached property sales in September 2018 totalled 275, a 46.9 per cent decrease compared to the 518 sales in September 2017. The benchmark price of an attached unit is $837,600. This represents a 6.4 per cent increase from September 2017 and a two per cent decrease over the last three months.

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The Canadian dollar fell sharply immediately after the release of the Bank of Canada’s Official Statement providing a more bullish forecast for the economy while holding rates steady. The Bank hiked its estimate of noninflationary potential growth, implying there was more room to grow without triggering rate hikes. The central bank now suggests the economy has a noninflationary speed limit of 1.8% this year and next, accelerating to 1.9% in 2020. Formerly, the Bank had estimated potential growth to average about 1.6% for the next two years.

 

Many market participants had expected a more hawkish statement as inflation has risen to close to the Bank’s 2%-target in recent months. The central bank appears to be straddling the fence, suggesting that rate hikes are coming, but the economy still needs stimulus. The good news is that growing demand is generating new capacity as businesses invest to meet sales, a development that Governor Poloz says the central bank has an “obligation” to nurture.

 

The Monetary Policy Report (MPR) notes that three-quarters of industries have a capacity utilization rate within five percentage points of their post-2003 peak. The business outlook survey, meanwhile, indicates that sales expectations have firmed. Taken together, this implies that there’s a real need for investment to meet higher demand.

 

The chief concern is that protectionism, which remains the central bank’s top risk to the outlook, coupled with the U.S. tax overhaul means businesses will choose to expand capacity outside of Canada. A “wide range of outcomes” is still possible for the NAFTA, according to the MPR, which did not acknowledge recently reported progress in talks between Canada, Mexico, and the U.S.

 

The central bank now sees first-quarter growth at 1.3%, down from a January forecast of 2.5%. Forecasts for 2018 were also brought down to 2%, from 2.2%. But 2019 growth was revised up to 2.1% from 1.6%. This stronger growth profile reflects upward revisions to the U.S. fiscally induced expansion.

 

Slower growth in the first quarter primarily reflected weakness in two areas. Housing markets slowed in the wake of the new mortgage guidelines. Exports also slowed, in part owing to transportation bottlenecks.

 

Concerning housing, the Monetary Policy Report contained an interesting chart (below) showing the cumulative change in housing resales since January 2017 with the following comment: “Housing activity is estimated to have contracted sharply in the first quarter, following the implementation of the revised B-20 Guideline. The contraction was amplified as some homebuyers acted quickly in the fourth quarter of 2017 to purchase a home before being subject to the new measure. In the second quarter of 2018, housing activity is expected to pick up as resales start to recover.”


Bottom Line: Despite upward revisions to inflation, the Bank’s assessment seems to be relatively sanguine. I expect two more quarter-point rate hikes this year–likely in the summer and fall.



By Dr. Sherry Cooper, Chief Economist, Dominion Lending Centres
Sherry is an award-winning authority on finance and economics with over 30 years of bringing economic insights and clarity to Canadians.

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Data released today by the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) show a small uptick in home sales nationally in March, their first monthly increase in three months. This comes on the heels of a more than 19% decline in the previous two months as the tighter mortgage stress-testing rules at federally regulated lenders have reportedly impacted one in three potential buyers. The uptick in March sales suggests that the housing market is beginning to move beyond the payback period for activity pulled forward at the end of last year ahead of the new rules introduced on January 1, 2018.

 

The outlook for the housing market is likely to be uneven as the new market-cooling measures announced in the BC budget are poised to lengthen the adjustment process in that province. Indeed, home sales in Vancouver are still declining as resales dropped 8.6% in March from the prior month while benchmark prices again edged up 1.1%. Vancouver has not seen so few homes change hands since 2013. The February BC budget introduced a new speculation tax as well as an expanded foreign buyers tax, and a tax hike on home sales and school taxes for properties worth more than $3 million.

 

For the country as a whole, existing home sales inched up 1.3% from February to March. Nevertheless, national sales activity in the first quarter slid to its lowest quarterly level since the first quarter of 2014.

March sales were up from the previous month in over half of all local housing markets, led by Ottawa and Montreal. Monthly sales gains were offset by declines in B.C.’s Lower Mainland, the Okanagan Region, Chilliwack, Calgary and Edmonton.

 

Actual (not seasonally adjusted) activity was down 22.7% from record activity logged for March last year and marked a four-year low for the month. It also stood 7% below the 10-year average for the month. Activity came in below year-ago levels in more than 80% of all local markets, including every major urban centre except Montreal and Ottawa. The vast majority of year-over-year declines were well into double digits.

 

“Government policy changes have made home buyers and sellers increasingly uncertain about the outlook for home prices,” said CREA President Andrew Peck. “The extent to which these changes have impacted housing market sentiment varies by region,” he added.

 

“Recent changes to mortgage regulations are fueling demand for lower-priced homes while shrinking the pool of qualified buyers for higher-priced homes,” said Gregory Klump, CREA’s Chief Economist. “Given their limited supply, the shift of demand into lower price segments is causing those sale prices to climb. As a result, ‘affordably priced’ homes are becoming less affordable while mortgage financing for higher priced homes remains out of reach of many aspiring move-up homebuyers.”

 

New Listings

The number of newly listed homes rose 3.3% nationally in March. However, new listings have not yet recovered from the 21.1% plunge recorded between December 2017 and January 2018–the most substantial month-over-month decline on record according to the CREA. With sales up by less than new listings in March, the national sales-to-new listings ratio eased to 53% in March. The long-term average for the measure is 53.4%.

 

Based on a comparison of the sales-to-new listings ratio with its long-term average, more than 60% of all local markets were in balanced market territory in March 2018. There were 5.3 months of inventory on a national basis at the end of March 2018 – unchanged from February, when it reached the highest level in two-and-a-half years. The long-term average for the measure is 5.2 months.

 

 

Home Prices

On a national basis, the Aggregate Composite MLS Home Price Index (HPI) rose 4.6% y/y in March posting the 11th consecutive deceleration in y/y gains. This continued the trend that began last April when the province of Ontario announced its new housing measures that included a 15% tax on nonresident foreign homebuyers. The slowing y/y home price growth mainly reflects the trend for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Prices in that region have stabilized or begun to show tentative signs of moving higher in recent months; however, year-over-year comparisons are likely to continue to deteriorate further due to rapid price gains posted one year ago.

 

Nationally, apartment condo units continued to show the highest y/y price gains in March (+17.8%), followed by townhouse/row units (+9.4%), one-storey single family homes (+1.3%). Two-storey single-family homes prices were down from a year ago (-2.0%), continuing the trend of the past year. Despite having stabilized over the second half of last year, y/y declines for single-family home prices may persist over the first half of 2018.

 

In the GTA, the Composite MLS HPI rose 3.2% y/y, which was driven by an 18.8% y/y rise in condo apartment prices and 7.5% growth in townhouse prices. Single-family detached home prices were down slightly compared to February 2017.

 

Benchmark home prices in March were up from year-ago levels in 9 out of the 14 markets tracked by the MLS® HPI (see the table below). Composite benchmark home prices in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia continued to trend higher after having dipped briefly during the second half of 2016 (GVA: +16.1% y/y; Fraser Valley: +24.4% y/y). Apartment and townhouse/row units have been driving this regional trend in recent months while single-family home prices in the GVA have held steady. In the Fraser Valley, single-family home prices have also begun to rise.

Benchmark home prices continued to rise by about 15% y/y in Victoria and by roughly 20% elsewhere on Vancouver Island.

 

Within the Greater Golden Horseshoe region of Ontario, price gains have slowed considerably on a y/y basis but remain above year-ago levels in Guelph (+7.5%). Meanwhile, home prices in the GTA and Oakville-Milton were down in March compared to one year earlier (GTA: -1.5% y/y; Oakville-Milton: -7.1% y/y). These declines primarily reflect price trends one year ago and mask evidence that home prices in the region have begun trending higher.

Calgary and Edmonton benchmark home prices were little changed on a y/y basis (Calgary: +0.3% y/y; Edmonton: -0.5% y/y). Prices in Regina and Saskatoon remained down from year-ago levels (-4.6% y/y and -3.4% y/y, respectively).

 

Benchmark home prices rose by 7.7% y/y in Ottawa (led by an 8.6% increase in two-storey single-family home prices). Prices shot up by 6.2% in Greater Montreal (driven by a 7.4% increase in two-storey single-family home prices) and by 4.9% in Greater Moncton (led by a 6.3% increase in one-storey single-family home prices).

 

Bottom Line

Housing markets continue to adjust to regulatory and government tightening as well as to higher mortgage rates. The speculative frenzy has cooled, and multiple bidding situations are no longer commonplace in Toronto and surrounding areas. Home prices in the detached single-family space will remain soft for some time, and residential markets are now balanced or favour buyers across the country. The hottest sector remains condos where buyers face limited supply.

 

Owing to the housing slowdown, a general slowing in the Canadian economy and significant trade uncertainty, the Bank of Canada will continue to be cautious.

 

Only 20% of investors expect the Bank of Canada to hike interest rates when they meet again on Wednesday. However, Governor Poloz will likely return to the rate-hike path in the second half of this year as inflation and growth are beginning to move higher. On a year-over-year basis, all measures of inflation have risen to the 2% range, and inflation will likely climb above the Bank’s 2% target pace in coming months, while growth should also return to an above-2% pace after a recent slowdown.

 

The Bank has maintained a cautious stance for months as inflation averaged only 1.6% last year, and the economy decelerated more than expected in the second half, amid signs that indebted households had begun slowing consumer spending. The economy grew at an annualized pace of 1.7% in the fourth quarter, versus economist expectations for 2% growth. Third-quarter gross domestic product growth was also revised lower.

 

After leading the Group of Seven in growth last year, the Canadian economy has lost momentum reflecting the slowdown in housing and longstanding productivity underperformance. The U.S. economy recorded growth rates of 3.2% in the third quarter and 2.5% in the last three months of 2017. Canada hasn’t trailed the U.S. in growth to this extent since early 2015, and the gap could well widen with this year’s U.S. tax cut favouring corporations.

 

But the environment is changing as inflation is likely to average 2.3% in the second quarter and 2.4% in the third as oil prices continue to rise. Nevertheless, most economists expect only two rate hikes this year–in July and October. That, of course, can change with incoming data surprises.

 

 

By Dr. Chief Economist, Dominion Lending Centres

Sherry is an award-winning authority on finance and economics with over 30 years of bringing economic insights and clarity to Canadians.

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NEW STRESS TEST REGULATIONS PROMPT CANADIAN HOMEBUYERS TO INCREASE BUDGETS, RE-EVALUATE HOME FEATURES OR DELAY THEIR PURCHASE. WHILE HOMEBUYERS ARE FEELING THE IMPACT OF REGULATORY CHANGES, THE SPRING MARKET FORECASTS BRIGHTER DAYS AHEAD.


A recent RE/MAX survey conducted by Leger found more than one in four Canadian homebuyers report feeling pinched by the stress test, which came into effect in January of this year. However, projections for the spring market show optimism with most markets expected to remain stable or improve.

 

Despite all of the factors involved, the spring market across most of the country is forecasted to strengthen as we head into the warmer months. Supply is still low in many markets, and while the prices may not reach the same levels as this time last year, we are expected to see continued healthy price appreciation from the earlier months of this year across many regions in the country.

 

The average residential sale price in the Greater Toronto Area dropped to $753,747, down almost 10 per cent from $834,144 in January and February of 2017. With move-up buyers driving the market — many of whom are making their second or third transition — alongside a booming condominium market, prices are forecasted to soften throughout the year. Not all regions in Ontario are being affected like the GTA. In Ottawa, the average residential sale price in January and February was $388,289, up four per cent from the same period in 2017, and Kitchener-Waterloo saw a five per cent price increase year-over-year.

 

At the same time, the average residential sale price in Western Canada continues to increase. Greater Vancouver saw prices increase almost 11 per cent in January and February to $1,051,513, up from $950,184 during the same period in 2017. Despite reduced unit sales, prices are expected to continue rising. While Victoria is mostly a seller’s market compared to Greater Vancouver, it has also seen an increase in average residential sale price, which was $831,000 in January and February this year compared to $761,000 during the same period in 2017.

 

It is expected that government intervention and the stress test will continue to play a pivotal role in purchasing behaviour as we look to the months ahead. The Leger survey found that four in 10 buyers have had to compromise on their purchase, and almost one in three opted not to purchase altogether. One quarter of buyers compromised on the size of their home, while 18 per cent made concessions on the location of their home.

 

Despite these compromises, 55 per cent of homebuyers say they feel like they can purchase the type of home that suits their families’ needs compared to 46 per cent last year.

 

In Alberta, first-time homebuyers looking for affordability in Calgary and Edmonton continue to drive the market forward, with single Millennials and young couples gravitating toward the relatively stable condominium market. The average residential sale price increased 1.4 per cent in Calgary to $481,775 in January and February of this year, up from $475,288 during the same period in 2017. Meanwhile in Edmonton, a wide variety of inventory offers good opportunities for buyers, resulting in a small increase in activity and stable year-over-year prices to start 2018.

 

Interestingly, activity in Atlantic Canada experienced increased demand from first-time homebuyers, many of whom are young couples and families. At the same time, the condominium market is being driven by retirees who are looking to downsize. Prices continue to rise across most Atlantic markets, especially in Saint John where the average residential sale price in January and February this year was $201,328, compared to $168,956 during the same period in 2017.

 

New residential and commercial development projects in markets across the country are expected to fuel demand. Cities most impacted will include Edmonton, Kelowna, Victoria and Fraser Valley in the West and Windsor, London, Hamilton-Burlington, Barrie, Durham, Ottawa, Saint John and Halifax in Central and Eastern Canada.

 

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The data relating to real estate on this website comes in part from the MLS® Reciprocity program of either the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver (REBGV), the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board (FVREB) or the Chilliwack and District Real Estate Board (CADREB). Real estate listings held by participating real estate firms are marked with the MLS® logo and detailed information about the listing includes the name of the listing agent. This representation is based in whole or part on data generated by either the REBGV, the FVREB or the CADREB which assumes no responsibility for its accuracy. The materials contained on this page may not be reproduced without the express written consent of either the REBGV, the FVREB or the CADREB.